Category Archives: Christian Living

Gospeling at Work (1 of 2)

Should you share the Gospel at work? The short answer: Yes. But before you answer that question we have to re-consider what we mean when we say “gospel” and “share.” So much of out evangelicalism has bought into the notion that the “gospel” consists of four points merely with a decision called for at the end. Sure, the backbone of the Good News is God, Man, Sin, Repentance, Forgiveness.

Throughout our lives, however, we are called to creatively interweave the gospel in our lives. In other words, we need to think of the gospel as integrally tied to our worldview. We cannot look at the customer buynig somethnig from us apart from seeing them as made in God’s image and in need of redemption. We cannot listen to the demands of our manager without considering that we are to revere him as we do the Lord. We cannot respond to a frustrated customer wihtout understanding that there are idols of the heart that must be demolished.

Some people have said that we should not “share the gospel” at work because we are not being paid to “share the gospel.” I think I know what they are getting at. Of course we shouldn’t set up a chair at the water cooler and field questions of faith while we should be making phno calls. Of course, we shouldn’t transition from selling a cell phone by saying, “You know how important communication with your loved ones is? Did you know that God wants to communicate with you too?” That would be awkard, it would burn a bridge rather than burn it since people can sniff the farce of the sale.

If, on the other hand, we begin to integrate our lives in such a way that the gospel becomes the thread by which we weave the fabric of our lives, we will not help but share the gospel in every conversation we have (all speech should be “seasoned with the salt of the gospel”). My job is pretty slow by way of customers coming in the doors, so I have the pleasure (sometimes it is a drudgery, honestly) of talking at length with a customer provided there is not someone waiting in line. There are a few folks I have seen once every couple weeks or so. I try to remember their names, their situations in life (college, loss of family member, broke up with girlfriend, etc…sometimes I feel like a bartender!). When they come in I ask them about their life and they do the same.If I am having a hard week, I share it, if a good week I share it. Today, I mentioned to a lady how I am thinking and praying through my life decisions that are coming down the pike. At times I get to ask them how they celebrated Easter, Christmas, etc.  I seek to be human and treat them as humans. When they are frustrated, I try to help them.

A couple came in a couple days ago and they were extremely perturbed, planning on canceling their service with us because they had been told one thing and something else had been done. I looked at them and had genuine compassion on them. I sought to max out their discounts on service and see what I could do to make their lives better. Instead of chaos in their lives, I sought to bring wholeness — shalom in the Hebrew which means a holistic restoration of the broken order. They had been deceived but I sought to bring truth and alleviate their suffering. In a way, this is like offering a cup of cold water to the parched soul.

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Children Open Our Eyes

Children Playing Leapfrog What I discussed in my last post is really a call for perspective change on the personhood of your child. As I look around me, I see parents (Christian and non-Christian) treating their children like pets, accessories, and inconveniences.

Parents have forgotten that they are a gift that we unwrap more and more everyday. They are packages of grace we get to find out more about through time and effort. Sure, we may get a paper cut or have trouble untying a knot, but the gift remains a gift–of gracious sanctification. Have you ever thought about the kind of soul work God is doing in your life through the daily frustrations you have because of your kids?

Here’s a challenge: Perhaps the anger and frustration is not because of your kids. Rather it is a deep-seated way of life you have grown accustomed to that is contrary to the ways of God. God has given you your children (not your neighbors’ children, not your siblings’ children) in order to dig deep into your heart and extract that sin you did not know was there when you were single or married without children.

Not only this, but they are reminders of our need to pause and live as children in God’s wonder-filled house. When your children play in the dirt and you have to wash their clothes, be reminded of the wonder and excitement of mud. The way it gushes in between your toes. When they scream, be reminded of our need to kill our penchant to please man rather than God. To be so free in your life that you can express yourself without feeling burdened, because you always have Mommy and Daddy who love you. When they are enraptured in play, remember that God’s world is a playground. Don’t let the fallenness of our world harden you to the declarations the heavens make and handiwork that is his creation. Remember that children keep you young and free in the grace and mercy and kindness of God…if you let them.

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Filed under Christian Living, Culture, Parenting

Strength in Weakness

From Seth Godin’s blog, entitled “Demonstrating Strength“:

Apologize

Defer to others

Avoid shortcuts

Tell the truth

Offer kindness

Seek alliances

Volunteer to take the short straw

Choose the long-term, sacrificing the short

Demonstrate respect to all, not just the obviously strong

Share credit and be public in your gratitude

Risking the appearance of weakness takes strength. And the market knows it.

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Two Conferences of Interest

One on John Bunyan in Whitlinsville, MA:

“A John Bunyan Feast”

October 22-23. Joel Beeke and Derek Thomas are the speakers.

Friday, October 22, 2010
12:30 PM Book Table Opens
1:30 PM Registration Opens
3:00 PM First Session: Pilgrim’s Progress: from the City of Destruction to the Cross Mr. Thomas
4:15 PM Dinner Break (at local restaurants)
6:00 PM Second Session: Bunyan’s Preaching to the Heart Mr. Beeke
7:20 PM Third Session: Pilgrim’s Progress: from the Cross to Vanity Fair Mr. Thomas
Saturday, October 23, 2010
8:00 AM Registration and Book Table Opens
9:15 AM Fourth Session: Bunyan on Justification Mr. Beeke
10:15 AM Coffee break and fellowship
10:45 AM Fifth Session: Pilgrim’s Progress: from Vanity Fair to the Celestial City Mr. Thomas
11:45 AM Questions and Answers
12:15 PM Lunch Break (at local restaurants)
1:30 PM Closing Session: A Bunyanesque Sermon on the Holy War Within Mr. Beeke

The other at Princeton Theological Seminary:

“These Speak of Me: The Glory of Christ in All of Scripture”

November 5-6. David Helm and Kent Hughes will be the speakers at this second conference.

PrCRT 2010

 

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Lashed to the Mast

A friend of mine posted a lengthy quotation from Eugene Peterson’s The Contemplative Pastor. The following two paragraphs are a good reminder that we are weak and can, like Odysseus, be lured away by the sirens of people pleasing. We need God’s grace in seeing that we, yes even you, can fall as fast and hard as the latest tabloid headline. You are one stupid second away from utter ruin. We also need to resolve of brothers and sisters to hold us to the commitment we made when we first set out on the stormy sea. When your men are about to mutiny and the waves are about to consume you, will you be fixed on your Star of direction?

We are going to ordain you to this ministry, and we want your vow that you will stick with to it.  This is not a temporary job assignment but a way of life that we need lived out in our community.  We know you are launched on the same difficult belief venture in the same dangerous world as we are.  We know your emotions are as fickle as ours, and your mind is as tricky as ours.  That is why we are going to ordain you and why we are going to exact a vow from you.  We know there will be days and months, maybe even years, when we won’t feel like believing anything and won’t want to hear it from you.  And we know there will be days and weeks and maybe even years when you won’t feel like saying it.  It doesn’t matter.  Do it. You are ordained to this ministry, vowed to it.

“There may be times when we come to you as a committee or delegation and demand that you tell us something else than what we are telling you now.  Promise right now that you won’t give in to what we demand of you.  You are not the minister of our changing desires, or our time-conditioned understanding of our needs, or our secularized hopes for something better.  With these vows of ordination we are lashing you fast to the mast of Word and sacrament so you will be unable to respond to the siren voices.

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An End Not a Means

I am reading an anthology of Andrew Bonar’s journal entries composed by his daughter entitled Heavenly Springs. In speaking about about his struggles in preparation for preaching he writes,

I see plainly that fellowship with God is not means to an end, but is to be the end itself. I am not to use it as preparation for study or for Sabbath labour, but as my chiefest end, the likest thing to heaven. {July 21, 1843_

How many times do we as preachers and teachers scour our family and daily interactions for illustrations for a message? If we do this with our family and friends, more than likely we also do this with God. Instead of enjoying coffee with a friend, we mentally file away some sin or issue we discussed so that we can use it in a sermon later.

How many times have you gone to read your Bible just to find something new to teach on or some pithy illustration? While this is good to have a lens through which to view the world so that you may help God’s people follow more closely to him, it seems as though we have sacrificed our own nearness to Christ by using those times of fellowship as illustrations rather than canvasses we have lived life on.

Perhaps it would be a good practice to ask yourself why you are getting ready to meet with God.

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Brotherhood

I mentioned in my last post dating half a century ago that I wanted to post more on what biblical manhood looks like. Sacrificing originality, I am going to hoist this ship with a point to Ray Ortlund’s blog. I just RSS fed his blog and have been richly blessed.

His post boils down to this: Take advantage of every opportunity when with brothers. Conversations tend to swirl around sports and quickly are drowned in the cyclone of verbiage. Sometimes conversations are weight lifting competitions of theological rigor. Flippant put downs and sarcastic remarks may get a laugh and make the mood light, but it won’t feed your soul.

This is not to say that every conversation has to be dour and sour experience where sport is out. These definitely can happen. But the first step in good, biblical, manly fellowship is being intentional.

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Where Are All the Good Man-sites?

I was talking with my wife yesterday about biblical manhood and woman. There are so many good sites for women to visit to learn about biblical womanhood (list below), but when it comes to living biblically as a man, you will have a hard time.

Theology sites abound. And, sure, there are posts sprinkled about that have topics on leading your family and such. But where can a man go that wants to learn about what it means to be a man? I found one site – and it was pretty pathetic and full of sarcasm. Sure, there are numerous books about how to be a warrior, a poet, a lumberjack, an Eastwood-wanna-be – but few books give me Bible and put me under its teaching. Fail.

I decided I want to begin writing a little more on this topic as a help to those men who want to consider and learn what it means to be a Christian man.

This is a need that needs to be filled. Why don’t we open up this new avenue for OffTheWire by having you put some sites you have found helpful for being a man, biblically. Maybe we can help get some resources together.

Biblical Womanhood Blogs (this is an open list, so if you have others to add, please put in Comments):

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Don’t Just Talk About Christ’s Sweetness…Taste It

I have been steeping myself in Augustine over the past four weeks for a paper I am doing on Augustine’s view of Scripture – particularly inspiration. From his second exposition of Psalm 18 (19), this hit hard:

Verse 12. The sweetness of the commandments

12. Indeed your servant keeps them. Your servant tests their sweetness by keeping them, not merely by talking about it, and keeps them because they are sweet even now, and will bring him everlasting health in the future; for in keeping them there is great reward. Heretics are so attached to their rancor that they cannot see this brilliance, nor taste the sweetness.

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The Drama of Doctrine: A Book Summary

The Drama of Doctrine: A Canonical-Linguistic Approach to Christian Theology by Kevin J. Vanhoozer. Westminster John Knox: Louisville, 2005. 493pp. $39.95.

According to the author, “The present book sets forth a postconservative, canonical-linguistic theology and a directive theory of doctrine that roots theology more firmly in Scripture while preserving Lindbeck’s emphasis on practice”  (xiii).  On the whole, this work is a fascinating piece that helps theologian and layperson grasp the energetic nature of Scripture. Lindbeck’s cultural-linguistic approach de-emphasized the autonomy of the exegete while heightening that of his enveloping culture – “the experience and the reasoning of the individual human subject is always already shaped by a tradition of language use” (10). By replacing “cultural” with “canonical,” Vanhoozer is able to say the same of Scripture – namely, it is the shaping subject for humanity. In this way, Vanhoozer reorients theology from theory to wisdom (13).

The author aptly shows how drama is a correcting foil for the theological endeavor. God is both the script(ure) writer and player in the drama. Humans are actors following a script. Theologians are the dramaturge for humanity.  Regarding the script, Vanhoozer makes it clear that this is a not a wooden mimic of the script. Rather, it is likened to a dinner theater, where the audience plays a part in the action and shaping as well. The actors are given roles, and they are so intended to enter into the ethic of the role that their actions and words will reflect the kind of person the playwright intended. Further, the Church acts out her parts in front of the surrounding culture and draws them into the drama that God intended them to live. Poignantly put, “Neither the pastor nor the magisterium should be allowed to become the sole voice or actor in the church. On the contrary, the whole people of God is responsible for participating in and continuing the action. Only an active rather than passive audience can turn deadly theater into ‘ a rehearsal of revolution.’ At its best, the church, as the theater of the gospel, is revolutionary, overturning idols and ideologies alike as it displays the first fruits of eschatological reality” (404; original emphasis).

Vanhoozer’s work should be read by all those who seek to bring doctrine and practice together. While this is not the only model by which we can organize Scripture’s teaching, the author has powerfully argued for it as a major contender. Unlike Michael Horton’s work regarding Divine Drama, Vanhoozer helpfully incorporates the surrounding culture in his model of theology. That is, rather than just saying that he will organize his theology around an analogy that follows the Bible’s own intrasystematic categories (when drama itself is not a category given in Scripture), Vanhoozer helps further theology’s enterprise of incorporating culture and Scripture together.

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Filed under Bible, Books & Media, Christian Living, Ethics, Interpretation, Pneumatology, Post-Modernity, Theology

Help My Denial!

augustine1

IN the latest Towers paper for Southern Seminary, Jeff Robinson asks Tripp about his anthropological view.

He asks: Why do Christians so often get the doctrine of man wrong? Don’t you think we often overestimate our own holiness and in so doing, we underestimate our need for God’s grace?

Tripp’s response: It is very hard for me to embrace that what I see in the mirror of the Word of God is actually me. I think that much of evangelicalism is people looking into the mirror and denying what they actually see. I think that’s a huge struggle.

I lived for years in my marriage as an angry man and I was deeply persuaded that the problem in my marriage was a wife who was discontent. The reality was that the Bible elaborately described what I was struggling with, but I couldn’t believe that it was me. I was so convinced that I was better than I actually was. . . . There is something dramatically wrong with me (emphasis added).

How true is it that when we are confronted by sin from our spouse, our first reaction is disbelief or blame shifting? We do not assume FIRST that we are in the wrong. If we had a healthy view of ourselves, we would start there and then look for external issues that would contribute to our attitudes and words.

This is what Augustine was primarily concerned with in his Confessions. He writes regarding his former life with the Manichees:

In Rome I did not part company with those would-be saints, who were such frauds both to themselves and to others. . . . I still thought that it was not we who sin but some other nature that sins within us. It flattered my pride to think that I incurred no guilt and, when I did wrong, not to confess it so that you might bring healing to a soul that had sinned against you. I preferred to excuse myself and blame this unknown thing which was in me but was not part of me.The truth, of course, was that it was all my own self, and my own impiety had divided me against myself. My sin was all the more incurable because I did not think myself a sinner. It was abominable wickedness to prefer to defeat your ends and lose my soul rather than submit to you and gain salvation.  [Confessions 5.10]

And so may we not be accused of committing abominable sins, but may we be quick to confess our sin and save our soul.

{Entire Tripp Interview in .pdf}

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Specialization in the Church Will Stunt Her Growth

Reading Peter Brown’s formative biography on Augustine (rev. 2000 edition). In it he makes this profound connection between the halt of evangelism and elitism in the Church:

There was one other split in the moral ideas of his hearers which Augustine could do nothing to heal: for it was a split within Christian ethics itself. The Christian communities had come increasingly to accept a dangerous degree of ‘moral specialization’: one life was left for the ‘perfect’, another for the average Christian. And it was just this widening gulf between an ascetic elite and a passive rank and file which brought the Christianization of the Roman world to a halt. (Peter Brown; Augustine of Hippo: A Biography; University of California, 2000; p. 245).

Could it be that many clergy are making such a dichotomy in their congregations when they fail to show their people how to read their Bible, how to obey rightly, how to die sacrificially as any other priest would?

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A Note to the Purchaser

Neckless SalesmanRight now in life I am a salesman. Some people have myriad allergic reactions to the word “salesman.” Some of this is rightly deserved. But have you ever taken a moment to consider whether you are just as allergy-causing to the salesman.

This is by no means a gripe session. Rather, it is a call for Christians to be christianly in their purchasing habits. Day in day out I interact with people from so many backgrounds your head would spin. Some people come in my door thinking that I am wicked – this is before they have spoken a word. Their demeanor says everything. Others open up and tell me about how they are getting ready to divorce for infidelity.

To the one who hates the salesman: Consider that this salesman is performing a valid service to your community. In a world where cyberspace has crowded out human interaction. In a world where people are not challenged to buy something they thought they wanted. The salesman provides some kind of sanity in the consumer’s overly righteous, yet uninformed, way. The salesman provides flesh and blood instead of keys and buttons.

To the one who lays it out: even though it can be over the top, but perhaps this is society’s plea for humanity. Like the hemorrhaging woman who reached out in despair, so to the consumer who has had enough of automated prompts and pixelated faces reaches out to their closest friend – a human.

To the Christian: make sure you are purchasing in a way you would if your salesman was Jesus. Don’t say you’ll come back. Don’t ask for a card when you have no intention of calling the salesman. Have some backbone. Don’t be like the boy who wanted to bury his father, spouting lines to get any kind of decision on his part postponed. Realize that the person attempting to sell you a phone or a car or a television needs to feed his family. He is not a shark (always).

Enjoy interacting with humans. Pay the extra $20 in order to feed your neighbors kids. On-line is cheap, but so is the experience and the loving of neighbor. It requires no backbone on your part – read people-pleasing. It requires no sympathy, empathy, or any other emotion than just getting what you want.

Challenge yourself to buy as you would from Jesus. [Matt 25.40, 45; Heb 13.2)

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The Evaluated Life

I have been teaching on Matthew 7.21-23 for the past two weeks in Sunday School. One of the issues we spent a lot of time on is the fact that both those who enter the Kingdom of Heaven and those that are surprised when they say “Lord, Lord did we not…”, both these groups of people do something. It apperars with the list of things the surprised group lists shuld be classified as doing the will of the Father – since these are the very things done by the Apostles. However, there is an aspect of their acitons that is missing to make them disqualified in doing the will of the Father.

Those that are surprised are essentially not in Christ. My question of the text probed a little deeper than this statement of fact. How do we know whether we are “in Christ.” One of the ways we know is by evaluating our motivations for why we do what we do. In a world that is constantly moving and changing we do not take the time that is necessary to think through why we do what we do. If we get to the answer of this question, then, I believe, we will get at the larger question of whether we are “in Christ” or not.

Here is a list of questions I posed to the Sunday School to help in this exercise:

Self-Evaluation
1. What do I get excited about when I come to church?
2. Do my conversations include testimonies of God’s grace in my life?
3. In what ways does God’s grace seem sweeter to me now than a year ago?
4. When I pray, speak in front of others, serve others, would I be content if no one applauded or noticed that I was serving?
5. If you were to enter the Kingdom of Heaven and God were the only one there, would you still want to enter? That is, you aren’t primarily excited about heaven because you will be reunited with loved ones.
6. Do your conversations allow others to see your flaws or do you feel the need to micro-manage how others will perceive you?
7. Do I understand that all of my obedience will be tainted with sin? If so, is it easy to accept as fact?
8. What have I done in the past three months out of love for Jesus?
9. What have I stopped doing in the past three months out of love for Jesus?

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Religious Lethargy #4

I case you didn’t catch it in my last post, the reason I used the adjective “lethargy” has to do with the relationship between knowledge and emotion. Religious experience that is founded upon the affections without content not only will result in lethargy, but it begins with lethargy. 

There is a fear of many that learning kills any kind of emotion. Jesus said that he delighted to do the will of the Father. His delight was contingent upon his knowing the will of the Father. How could he delight in something he did not know? We mustn’t be lax in our search for truth. We must dig deep as for a treasure. We mustn’t become naive ascetics who long for the spiritual slop of fervor. Rather we are to long for the pure spiritual milk of the word of God (= information about and from God). 

Such fervor leads to lethargy in that the congregation will merely wait for the next innovator to come to their conference or meeting to stir them up. Getting up in the morning and having their mind conformed will seem dry if the only kind of Christianity they experience is an experience.

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